When the curtain fell on the morbid stage of The Dishwasher (assuming you made it), there were only two things that could be gleaned regarding the man himself:
Firstly, once upon a time he washed dishes.
Secondly, in psychotic ninja form he took no man prisoner; left no man standing; allowed no man, nor machine, the pittance of hope that he may cling to during his final, fleeting moments of life. Vehement barbarity like this hadn’t reared its head since Ryu Hayabusa stood tall and proclaimed: Death to all deprived of blonde locks and jumbo boobies.
But hey, it was long overdue.
The good news then, is that during the between years precious little has changed. Vampire Smile is as much a game about running from left to right while slaughtering federal agents, belligerent robots, chainsaw brandishing pumpkin men and anything else posing an infinitesimal threat to the titular hero as The Dishwasher ever was. In fact, ostensibly it’s indistinguishable from its forbearer but there’s a bevy of smart adjustments lingering behind the jamboree of slaughter and familiar macabre artwork whirring to make Vampire Smile a more accessibly brutal game; a game that likes to see you cry, but at least doles out the tissues.
Pivotally, it’s a better-balanced and fairer game than The Dishwasher. ‘Pretty princess’ is the new difficulty incorporated to allay the tyrannical ways of the former title and it does an apt job of making you feel like one. That’s partly because played on princess mode, Vampire Smile is incontrovertibly easy. But it’s equally due to it being one of several compromises made to entice tender players back.
Even played on the middling difficulties, Vampire Smile is rarely as tough as before. Enemies hand out health readily on demise, while food items no longer exceed the price of a diamond encrusted Nintendo 3DS, meaning it’s okay to heal in battle. There’s a liberal supply of combat perks in the form of hidden beads – of which you can equip up to four – and when it’s your turn to be lopped into meaty chunks you return with a significant dose of health and magic.
Which is all grand but the bastard heart and soul of the franchise survives through the ninja and samurai difficulties, so no worries there, and the devilishly tough arcade mode returns, pitting you against waves of enemies with a prescribed array of weaponry.
The Dishwasher himself doesn’t reprise the starring role this time round, though (returning only as an additional playable character). That decoration belongs to his sibling Yuki.
Yuki is an absolute pain merchant, vigorous and perversely violent she’s the anti-Jane Eyre and her rapidly deteriorating sanity sparks some wonderfully unpredictable quirks that help shake up the routine battles.
Despite alternate weapons and a unique arsenal of violent executions, the game plays almost identically with both characters. You blaze through a melancholy world populated by evildoers with a lone goal to maim them all. There’s a light element of exploration, but it would be a stretch to dust off the Metrovania tag. Vampire Smile is anchored by its combat but it’s taut enough that if breakneck speed hack and slash titles are your ticket, the four hour campaign simply does not tire.
Yuki’s exclusive trait is her blood-dash teleport, which essentially grants her carte blanche to fly about the levels with a flick of the right thumbstick. The mechanic is indistinguishable from The Dishwasher’s but he remains shackled to the standard samurai sword when teleporting. Yuki’s free to zip about without much constraint. It’s brilliant.
The blood-dash is the backbone of the combat and, like Bayonetta, duels are as much about inch-perfect evasion as they are bludgeoning a robot shark with an eight-foot hammer laced with barbed wire. And there’s a similar teeth-clenching palpability to the swordplay. When you’re straddling a giant squid, pummeling tentacles into sushi with a syringe fit only for penetrating the deepest fathoms of an elephant, each press of the button feels like another tendon tearing.
Just like how Ninja Gaiden so effectively evoked the uninhibited cool of being a samurai and Bayonetta made you feel like a voluptuous wholesaler of suffering, Vampire Smile’s ad lib combat is gloriously and utterly empowering.
That’s helped massively by a camera that converts the vicious foray into something even more beguiling; swooping in to capture every disembowelment, impaling and execution, shuddering with each slice and tracking Yuki’s zestful movement like a magnet. While most side-scrolling cameras take a passive role, trundling alongside the player, Vampire Smile’s is a blood-lusting fanatic practically wiling you to bask in the aura of blood, entrails and bone marrow. Which is fine because that’s what Yuki likes to do in her free time.
Truth be told it can become a touch chaotic when the screen is rammed with enemies and gory effects, but 95% of the time it simply adds to the rampant ass-kicking.
Yuki’s story, on the other hand, is garbled nonsense. Revenge against the evil corporations on the moon just about encompasses the spaghetti junction of emo-warbling and naïve anti-establishment piffle. The gibberish is relayed through some chic comic book cut scenes and harbors an air of vengeance-film but, thankfully, rarely intrudes on the carnage.
Unless you die during a boss fight, in which case you’re forced to sit through a painful five-second re-introduction. Yes, this is what happens when you crossbreed a man with a giant squid. Now let’s turn its intestines inside out, wring its throat and serve it on a platter.
Because that is what The Dishwasher is all about and frankly, it has never been better.